Published on November 28th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond, is the best thing that came from the generic, colour by numbers Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon.
Man on the Moon was a 1999 biopic, directed by Milos Foreman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), about the comedian Andy Kaufman. It was competently made, but feels like a colour by numbers greatest hits tape, burdened by biopic clichés. However, though the movie is pretty meh, Jim Carrey, playing Kaufman, does a bang up job.
During the making of the movie, Carrey had a film crew following him around, documenting his method approach, which frequently wrecked havoc on the set and with other performers. The movie studio swept the footage under the rug, so Carrey “wouldn’t look like an asshole.” Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton), from American Movie’s Chris Smith, finally unearths this footage and tells the story.
I have a shaky relationship with Jim Carrey. While I liked him on In Living Color and I eventually warmed to the first Ace Ventura movie, I found a lot of his comedy, movies like The Mask, to be shrill and annoying. I liked him better in films like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, favouring his dramatic acting over his rubber-faced comedy.
Kaufman was on his own level — I’m not sure there’s been anyone quite like him since. He was less a comedian than he was an anarchist button pusher (though, often wrapped in a sweet package). Kaufman was true punk. One of my favourite of his gags revolved around a TV special he was making, where he purposely let the vertical hold on the tape go nuts for a second, with the idea that anyone watching would get up and start banging on their set, thinking the problem was on their end. There was no payoff for the show; the joke didn’t have to be funny to anyone but him. He didn’t give a shit what anyone thought.
The best thing that Jim and Andy does is give us a front row seat to the idea of the method actor, close up on set. For those that aren’t aware, method acting, broadly speaking, is the act of getting into a character’s head and motivations by staying in character throughout the shoot. Daniel Day-Lewis stayed in character as Christy Brown in My Left Foot, who, because of cerebral palsy, only had use of one foot. Crew members on that film had to feed Day-Lewis between takes. During the making of Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey became Andy Kaufman (and sometimes his boorish lounge singing alter ego, Tony Clifton, whom I love).
What we get in this movie is a rare peak behind the curtain at what that looks like on the day-to-day of a movie set. The director tries to work with his star while being put upon; having to break up fights between Carrey and wrestler Jerry Lawler. Grips stroll into camera, rolling their eyes at these Hollywood schmucks while casually doing their work. Danny DeVito (who plays himself because he was on Taxi with Kaufman) and Paul Giamatti seem like they are cautious, but they give him space for the method. Courtney Love, who plays Kaufman’s girlfriend, is a bit of a wild card herself. She jumps right into it and helps him stay in character.
Through all the chaos that Carrey channeling Kaufman is creating, DeVito admits that he’s exactly like Andy. He’s nailing it. Even members of Kaufman’s family meet with Carrey and converse with their deceased relative. (Poor Jerry Lawler doesn’t quite have this experience, as he and Kaufman weren’t at odds in real life the way he and Carrey are on set).
The movie doesn’t satisfy itself with just showing us that peak behind the curtain. It also asks some deep questions about acting — and about people. Who really knew Andy? Who really knows anybody? What is the nature of fame? The film explores these questions, while also getting to the bone with Jim Carrey and his life and career, as well as Kaufman’s career and the juxtapositions in their comedy styles.
Jim and Andy balances a lot well in a tight, hour and a half runtime, a much better movie than Man on the Moon. Jim Carrey himself sits quietly, reflecting on the lives of two comedians, and on the experience of letting Andy Kaufman (and Tony Clifton, heaven forbid) borrow his body to be seen and heard from again. It may have been for a mediocre movie for most of us, but for those like Lawler, DeVito, and especially some members of Kaufman’s immediate family, it was Kaufman greatest gag yet, briefly coming back from the dead.